Are your views 'pro-Israel' enough for your JCC?

I am a Jewish studies teacher and I love Israel; but if I don’t pass the JCC's 'Israel loyalty test,' what about the thousands more like me?

WZO 1
A pro-Israel demonstration /
By David Harris-Gershon
Published 18:28 04.02.14

On Monday, I had to cut short my conversation with the CEO of the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center, Carole Zawatsky. Why? My fourth grade students were about to enter my classroom, a space adorned with Stars of David and Hebrew posters, for a lesson on Moses' leadership during the Ten Plagues.

Zawatsky and I were speaking about why my scheduled book event at the DCJCC had been cancelled due to my political views. During this conversation, she made clear that she wanted you – members of the DCJCC community and beyond – to know that I am a mensch.

She also wanted you to know that my political views are so untenable that the DCJCC could no longer host my "Authors Out Loud" book event, at which I was to talk about the power of reconciliation and dialogue embedded in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

The event was cancelled because, apparently, I had crossed a red line for Zawatsky. Now, this line wasn't crossed when I wrote that, as a progressive Zionist, I long for Israel to thrive as a Jewish, democratic state. Nor was it crossed when I wrote about my desire for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be resolved via a two-state solution. However, I crossed a red line upon writing that I view economic sanctions as a legitimate form of nonviolent protest for Palestinians to use, despite my opposition to some tactics used by the BDS movement and its implicit goal of a binational state.

It's a view I hold with regard to the United States and its sanctions against Iran, a view I hold in general to be unimpeachable: the legitimacy and preference of nonviolent forms of opposition, such as sanctions, over war and violence.

Apparently, it's also a view which will prohibit me from speaking before the DCJCC community – a community I have long respected both for its intellectual depth and the compassionate way in which my wife and I were embraced after the 2002 Hebrew University bombing, which is at the heart of my book. So how could such an intellectually honest and compassionate community view me, a Jewish studies teacher and progressive Zionist, as someone who should stand outside the community? Zawatsky's stated rationale is that the DCJCC will not "provide a platform for discussion of boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel."

But this rationale doesn't stand up to scrutiny. My memoir, about which I was invited to speak, chronicles my reconciliation with a Palestinian family, and not any such political issues. Additionally, not once in any of my appearances at Hillels, JCCs and synagogues around the country have I mentioned BDS, nor have any of my appearances become a "platform" for such issues. Why? They're not relevant to the topic of my narrative.

Clearly, something else is at play here, and that something is a broader crisis currently plaguing the American Jewish community, wherein Jewish institutions are attempting to constrict dialogue by deciding who can, and cannot, speak about Israel based upon narrow and self-defeating "pro-Israel" guidelines. It's a problem at Hillel International, and now – as much as it pains me to say it – a problem in one of the most dynamic Jewish communities that exists in the States.

Recently, William Daroff, the director of the Jewish Federation's D.C. office, wrote that I, and others like me, should be placed outside the Jewish communal tent for political views that stand "outside the bounds of legitimate discourse." Inexplicably, the DCJCC is now concluding similarly by disinviting me to speak.

If someone like me should be placed outside the Jewish communal tent, consider the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of liberal or progressive Jews who would similarly be exiled, since they too would be standing "outside the bounds of legitimate discourse."

I want to be clear: This is not an issue of free speech. The DCJCC has a right to host whomever it likes. The issue is the communal damage being done by Jewish institutions that, out of misplaced or irrational fear, are refusing to engage with some of our most difficult and pressing issues, content to cast valuable members from the communal tent rather than expand that tent.

My professional life has been devoted to the Jewish people. I love the State of Israel. Unfortunately, I am also now forbidden from sharing that love, and my message of reconciliation, with the DCJCC community as part of a sanctioned event. If you live in D.C., and would like to dialogue, my door is always open. I wish the same could be said for the leaders of your Jewish institutions.

David Harris-Gershon is a blogger for Tikkun Magazine and a day school teacher. He is the author of What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.  

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  • 11.
    Washingon JCC
    The article is somewhat unfair to Ms Zawatzky, who directs a Washington JCC with a very broad program. She has to contend with influential members who are resolute tribalists. Neither they nor their children serve in the IDF and by way of compensation, they are very aggressive toward those who do not share their own variety of Jewishness. These are persons who were made uncomfortable in college courses on music by Bach, they felt at home with Klemzer. Their contact with and knowledge of the rest of the US is limited. Washington's Jewish community on the whole has made very large contributions to the capital and the nation in the arts, business and finance, education and science, government and politics, the professions including medicine and law. It is not a world the ethnocentric defenders of Israel share. Consider the tenor of some of their comments---cultural and moral elegance is not their most striking characteristic. Ms Zawatzky has to deal with these persons every day, one admires her tenacity and sacrifice.
  • 10.
    Oh puh-lease
    This article is ridiculous. The author has advocated for BDS for years and regularly re-Tweets the likes of Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss. Check out his Twitter feed (@David_EHG). There is no reason why Jewish communal organizations should be expected to give their support to such extreme views. Mr. Gershon is free to advertize his book at one of the hundreds of anti-Israel forums around the country.
  • 9.
    Opposing the occupation...
    is not anti-Semitic, however BDS is anti-Semitic. As the author makes clear the ultimate goal of BDS is the destruction of the State of Israel and the elimination of Jewish national self-determination rights in order to create a Palestinian state. In other words, BDS implicitly believes that Jews are not entitled to self-determination, but that Palestinians are entitled to self-determination. This is clear anti-Semitism. Anyone that embraces or legitimizes BDS is embracing and legitimizing anti-Semitism. Therefore, it is perfectly logical for Jewish centers to deny a platform to anyone that embraces or seeks to legitimize BDS.
  • 8.
    ROTFL
    Too funny: the author advocates a boycott against Israel and then whines in an Israeli newspaper that he's being boycotted himself. Action, meet reaction. Epic fail.
  • 7.
    Teach Jewish Studies and Do Not Brainwash Our Children
    These teachers with an agenda that is hostile towards Israel and the Jewish people are always shocked when they are prevented from warping the brains of children. Just as American parents would not like teachers to tell their children how wonderful the Taliban is, Jewish parents do not want teachers to spread propaganda in support of Israel's enemies. How is that even surprising?
  • 6.
    Harris-Gershon article
    This "Are with us or against us" mentality forecloses genuine dialogue!
  • Cavalier Attitude Towards Treason
    Either one supports the Jewish state or does not. One cannot support BDS, the PLO, Hamas and support the Jewish state. The two are incompatible. It's like cheering on Al Quaeda if one is an American. BDS has destroyed any chance for dialog since BDS serves to shut up any voice that supports Israel.
  • Treason?
    Did you read the article carefully? Nowhere did he say he supported the PLO, Hamas - or blanket BDS. why are people assuming he's brainwashing anyone's children? He explicitly says he's never brought any of that up - at any of his appearances and certainly not in day-school.
  • 5.
    Since when...
    ...should an American teacher have to prove his/her loyalty to a foreign state?
  • Not A Public School
    If I was Catholic and sent my kids to a Catholic school, I'd want the teachers to be Pro-Vatican. This is the same thing.
  • Catholicism is a religion, not a country.
    The Vatican is certainly a state, albeit a very tiny one. But I doubt if you would find any Catholic in the entire world who would express loyalty to it. Catholicism is a religion, not a country.
  • 4.
    So they are boycotting you?
    Lol
  • 3.
    just wait
    People like Zawatsky, groups like AIPAC, and the dominant political culture in Israel are all their own worst enemies. In another generation or two they will, in all likelihood, be gone.
  • Funny People Said That When they Sunk The Atlaena
    Since OSLO the movement to oppose OSLO has gotten stronger and stronger. Friends of mine that once voted Meretz and Labor now vote for Likud and for Bennet. Why? Because these people woke up and realized that the peace process is bogus and that the PLO has not changed from the days it blew up airplanes. You will see BDS vanish in a very abrupt manner. Those who support it will become outcast and won't be even able to get a job or get a loan.
  • 2.
    Carole Zawatsky should be ashamed of herself!
    I wonder if this is her own view or a desire to avoid controversy and pressure from Right-Wing funders....
  • finding balance, finding courage
    I doubt it is her own view, but she has made little effort to seek support from those who might have given it to her, instead taking this position with the literary program, another similar with the theater there and now most recently de-inviting a group to the DCJCC Jewish Music Festival because of the opinions of one of its members.
  • 1.
    Join the Club
    In the Jewish world today, you cannot take such a position. It will result in a total shunning and forced disassociation from Jewish communal life. The AIPAC/ZOA lobby will see that you are delegitimized. Of course support for the boycott movement is not anti-Semitic. It is anti-occupation and continuation of Israel's expropriation and annexation of Palestinian land. The boycott movement is gaining strength and these official organization know that and can not tolerate any deviation from the orthodox line. They will do all in their power to silence you and then lay the charge against you that you, too, are an agent for the anti-semites. It is a game they have been playing for yrs.
  • Yes, Supporting The Enemy is Frowned Upon
    Yes, in the Jewish world people do not care for those who work towards the destruction of Israel and provide comfort to terrorist who murder Jews. That may seem odd to you, but that is quite normal.